Common Chinese Mistakes

When learning a new language there are literally hundreds of things you can do wrong. With a good teacher you can learn how to overcome your difficulties. Everyone makes many mistakes but some mistakes are more common than others. Here is a list of some of the easiest mistakes to make when trying to master Chinese.

The tones “-” “/” “∨” “\”. There are 4 of them plus a neutral tone (no tone). These can be fantastically difficult to learn without help; that’s the bad news. The good news is that for a learner of Chinese – at least at the beginner level – a student can create potentially meaningful communication without them. Why? This is because Chinese is heavily dependent on the context for understanding meaning. Phonetically speaking Chinese is a VERY small language i.e. everything sounds like everything else – that is actually part of the purpose for using the tones. As a beginner your lack of tones will be interpreted for what it is – your limited knowledge and as such the Chinese will endeavor to interpret your meaning. But it has limitations. For instance the pin yin (Romanization of Chinese characters) sound ‘shi’ (pronounced like English ‘sure’ but shorter) has – I checked – 41 pages of different means in the modern Chinese dictionary. So the importance of tones along with context cannot be overstated.

A really smart student would choose a language school that would teach their students the tones right from the start. That school and their teachers would also re-enforce this new skill with frequent practice and LIVE real-time error correction. As it turns out eChineseLearning is just such a school. Their teachers are all highly qualified Chinese language instructors that will teach you standard pronunciation.

An excellent example of the challenge tones presents can be found with the antonyms ‘buy’ and ‘sell’. In Chinese they have the same pin yin – mai (pronounced ‘my’) but with different tones. ‘Buy’ is mai with the 3rd tone and sell is mai with the 4th tone. When learning to use money or go shopping a necessary skill for the business person and tourist a learner needs to know the tones or there may be some confusion. You can imagine the hilarity that would ensue if you walked into a store and started telling the manager you wanted to sell of his/her goods because you were mispronouncing the word and therefore your meaning. Fortunately Chinese people are aware of these things and will laugh knowingly at this beginner’s mistake. Because eChineseLearning’s teachers are all trained they will help you avoid this kind of confusion.

Another common Chinese pronunciation mistake includes the similarity of the initial Chinese sounds (Chinese sounds are divided into initials and finals and the endless recombination of them makes up the lexis of the language). For the instance the easiest ones to mistake include: ch-q/zh-j/sh-x. In Chinese these 6 sounds are all initials and each one from the different pairs makes the same sound. It is only when combined with a final that one can determine the meaning. For example, ‘ch’ + ‘u’ = chew and ‘q’ + ‘u’ = chu with the German uber sound. To an untrained ear these sound exactly the same; especially in everyday conversation. Once isolated they are easier to distinguish but you need the kind of thoughtful and helpful tutor eChineseLearning will provide.

The apparent challenge and potential for making mistakes while learning to write the characters seems so obvious that they shouldn’t even rate a mention. To an unknowing eye the all look the same – give or take – and they are not phonetic so the characters in themselves aren’t really connected to the sounds. When learning them it is easy to take a random approach to drawing them. I mean, why not? As long as it looks the same it is the same, right? That’s the catch, it won’t look the same and your writing will end up looking like an infant wrote it using a crayon or something worse. The stroke order, as it is called is actually quite important; you can ask your eChineseLearning instructor to explain why during your free trial lesson if you want.

Finally there is the grammar. For the people whose first language is English that are trying to learn Chinese they very quickly notice that the grammar doesn’t really match up when they are trying to translate in their head. It isn’t exactly opposite but they use a word order that is different than English. In a simple sentence such as: ‘Wo chi le jiao zi.’ ‘I ate dumplings.’ The word order is the same and so is the grammar but in a slightly more complex sentence ‘Wo zi li tai re.’ ‘.’ It is too hot in the room – is how it would appear as a translated sentence but the direct translation would be ‘Room in too hot.’ This sentence is missing some English grammar features; notably the lack of a verb. If you are a student who is lacking adequate instruction you might be tempted to write or say the sentence in Chinese but with English grammar, such as ‘Ta shi tai re le zai wo zi’ which is of course not really a Chinese sentence and would be not understood by a Chinese person.

Finally, another difference that is hard for learners to understand is that Chinese verbs do not have tense as they might in English. When discussing time relationships in Chinese a speaker must add time related characters like le/guo. These are very easy to overlook when speaking and especially easy to miss when writing.

Chinese and English have a lot in common but there is also a lot that is different. If you are not paying close attention or you are ignoring your teacher, you will make many mistakes, so your Chinese will sound off. Seek quality instructors at eChineseLearning then dedicate yourself to improving your skills and you will be pleased with the results.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top